Republican power grab good for Mid-Columbia

December 12, 2012 

The minority Republicans, with the aid of two fiscally conservative Democrats, wrested control of the state Senate from the majority Monday.

We're hopeful it will turn out to be a positive development for Washington residents, but that doesn't make it any less of a power grab.

A truly bipartisan approach -- if such a thing is possible -- would have required a negotiated plan for running the Legislature's upper body next session.

The new majority coalition that emerged at a news conference Monday morning has the approval of exactly two Democrats -- Rodney Tom of Medina and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch.

But that's all the support the Senate's 23 Republican members needed to gain the majority and hold sway next year.

Tom and Sheldon didn't switch parties and give Republicans complete control but held out for some concessions in exchange for their support.

Under the agreement, Tom will be the majority leader, Republicans will chair six committees, the Democrats will chair six and three will be co-chaired.

Republicans heralded the move as an unprecedented power-sharing arrangement, which is true. But it's a stretch to describe the deal as bipartisan.

Getting two of the Democratic Party's staunchest conservatives to sign onto the plan doesn't equate to the widespread Democratic support that would give the coalition a legitimate claim to bipartisanship.

Dwight Pelz, chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party, issued this statement after the announcement: "Senators Tom and Sheldon turned their backs on the Democratic Party by siding with a radically right Republican caucus that earlier this year attempted to slash critically important funding for education and social services for the elderly and the vulnerable."

Pelz went on to say, "The truth here is that Sen. Tom has instigated this unprecedented coup and joined with Republicans to install himself as majority leader out of a desire to further his own personal ambitions, not out of what is in the best interests of his constituents or the public at large."

Tom was telling anyone who would listen Monday that the deal was about policy, not power. We're not sure what that means, because in politics, it's those with power who create policy.

Frankly, that's what makes us hopeful.

The state faces significant financial challenges, and the best chance for minimizing the pain is to include Republicans in the process.

Before Monday's power grab, Democrats controlled the House, Senate and governor's office. If Senate Republicans hadn't staged Monday's coup, the party would have been largely left on the sidelines in Olympia.

It's a paradigm that virtually disenfranchises the Mid-Columbia, where every legislative seat is held by a Republican.

The new arrangement catapults the Mid-Columbia into some powerful positions. As leader of the Republican caucus, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, suddenly wields real power.

That's evident in the committee assignments announced Monday that put Schoesler's Eastern Washington colleagues into key positions.

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, will be co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee; Sen. Jana Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, will be chairwoman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee; and Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, was named chairman of the Capital Budget Committee.

The deal also put westside Republican's in charge of the Senates most powerful committees. Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, will be chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee. Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island will head the K-12 Education Committee.

That's where the action will be as the Legislature works to address a $900 million budget shortfall and to devise a plan for providing the extra $1 billion annually needed to meet the state Supreme Court's mandate to fully fund basic education for K-12 students.

With only Democrats in control of both houses and the executive branch, the Washington Education Association and other public sector unions wield enough power to quash needed reforms.

This new way forward provides some much needed geographical and philosophical balance.

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